Club swaps shillelagh for Shaolin to fight isolation

Shaolin monks they are not, but a community group has turned to the shillelagh as the latest weapon in the fight against social isolation.

Members of the Shandon Shillelagh Social Club in Cork, practice a form of non-combative martial arts using the blackthorn stick.

Instructor Martin Forrest teaches a programme which combines elements of tai chi and pilates, and involves the use of the shillelagh for self-defence.

“It’s not about fighting,” said Mr Forrest. “It’s about self-defence, personal safety, mobility and wellness.”

The club, the only one of its kind in the country, came into being as part of a programme of activities organised for a local men’s group set up to tackle social isolation.

The group meets on a weekly basis at Eason’s Hill Community Centre in Cork City, where they train and talk.

Already, the club is making its mark, and has performed demonstrations in the north Cork town of Charleville and in Dundalk, Co Louth.

Next year, members will to travel to London to take part in a St Patrick’s Day event hosted by the Irish Cultural Centre, and they plan to perform at an event in Limerick next summer as part of The Gathering.

“It’s great for the men — both for their physical and mental wellbeing,” said community health worker Martin Aherne, who founded the men’s group as part of a HSE/Health Action Zone initiative.

One club member, Michael O’Brien of Gerald Griffin St, Cork, says he looks going to the club each week.

“It’s an outlet for people... It’s occupying the mind rather than sitting in front of the TV,” said Mr O’Brien, who occasionally brings his grandchildren Dean, 10, and Tyrese, 5, along to join in the activities.

“They [Dean and Tyrese] are out on the floor with the sticks training. At home when they come up the first thing they go for is the stick... They do the moves.”

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